Captain Renault Comes To U.C. Berkeley Law

 One of the most iconic scenes in American film occurs in “Casablanca” when Captain Renault comments: “I am shocked. Shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” At that moment a croupier hands Renault a pile of money, stating “Here are your winnings sir.” 

Captain Renault’s ability to turn his eyes away from reality towards political correctness, came to my mind on April 12, 2024, as I watched a segment on CNN between Jake Tapper and Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the U.C. Berkeley School of Law. If you missed the segment, the Dean and his wife had made a sweet gesture of inviting the entire law school class to their home for a social event to commemorate the end of the semester. In the middle of the event, one of the students reached into her pocketbook, and pulled out a Keffiyeh (head scarf) and electronic microphone. Now, this social event was transformed into this one student engaging in a loud obnoxious dialogue about her perceptions of Israel-Palestine. This student chose to end the social nature of the event, instead turning it into political theater. Days before the event, Students for Justice in Palestine, a campus supported organization, distributed thousands of flyers on campus which portrayed Dean Chemerinsky holding a bloody knife and fork, and eating the people of Gaza. Such an antisemitic poster is reminiscent of the lies perpetrated by the famous blood libel which perpetrated a myth that Jews ate Christian babies as a ritual. In his April 12 interview with Tapper, Chemerinsky indicated that he was “shocked” to see that level of antisemitism on campus. 

Captain Renault has returned to the Berkeley campus in the form of Dean Chemerinsky.

Ironically, this is not Chemerinsky’s first time sticking his head in the sand and pretending that the problem of antisemitism does not exist on campus. After the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, and the vast campus antisemitism that erupted afterward, Chemerinsky wrote in the L.A. Times and ABA Journal, writing that, “Nothing had prepared me for the antisemitism I see on college campuses now.” When I read Chemerinsky’s comments in October, I was reminded of the criminal defendant who is charged with murdering his parents and pleads for mercy because now he is an orphan. Apparently the dean has not even read the recently filed complaint in the United States District Court, alleging that U.C. Berkeley allows a hostile and antisemitic environment on campus. I understand this history.

Thirteen years ago in 2011, I represented Jessica Felber, a U.C. Berkeley student who was attacked on the UC Berkeley campus by a leader of “Students for Justice in Palestine.” The reason that Jessica was assaulted that day, was because she was carrying a placard that said, “Israel wants Peace.”

Before agreeing to take the Felber case, I decided to tour the Berkeley campus. It was hard for me to believe that there was antisemitism on the campuses of a great California University. It is an impressive tour. We learned the number of volumes in the various libraries. We learned about how many faculty members had received Nobel prizes. As the tour concluded I chatted with a mother and her teen aged daughter. They told me that they were visiting campuses around the country, since the teenager was applying for college. I volunteered that I was impressed with the Berkeley tour, and I hoped that she would apply to Cal Berkeley. I was surprised at her response. She told me that in her high school class there were discussions about which colleges were hostile to Jewish students. I was amazed that she told me that in her high school, U.C. Berkeley would come up constantly as a school hostile to Jewish students. I went home that evening and began researching anti Semitic events on the Cal campus through the recent past. To my amazement there were dozens of incidents.

I brought the Felber case to the United States District Court alleging that the University violated Title Six of the Civil Rights Act in that U.C. Berkeley tolerated a hostile and aggressive campus against Jews, Israelis and Zionist, while the school allowed the S.J.P. to stage “mock border inspections,” with students dressed as Israeli soldiers, and Jews, carrying realistic looking automatic weapons and brutalizing passing students. As such, this campus agitprop demonstration, had the effect of turning Sproul Plaza, the middle of the California campus, into Oberammergau, Bavaria, a place where antisemites would stage a passion play which would lead to increased antisemitism. The portrayal in the middle of the campus similarly was an antisemitic portrayal, leading to even more acts of antisemitism on campus. 

During the Felber case, The University made numerous motions to dismiss the case. In one of our oppositions we were able to cite scholarly books and journals and present declarations from experts confirming that Hamas is a terrorist organization, bent on killing Jews. Back in 2011, we filed legal papers and presented them to the University establishing the dangers of Hamas on Campus, and their connection with the SJP and the Muslim Brotherhood. We demonstrated to the University the inherent dangers of SJP and other radical antisemitic groups.

The Felber case was resolved in the chambers of a United States District Court Judge, who helped negotiate a settlement that included an acknowledgement that no demonstrations should block access to Sather Gate, a major entrance to the University.

Despite the conclusion of the Felber case, antisemitism still continued on campus.

In 2017 for example, U.C. Berkeley professor Hatem Bazian a lecturer in the department of diaspora studies tweeted a picture of a man with side-locks and a black hat with the message, “Mom look I is chosen, I can now, kill rape, smuggle organs, and steal land of Palestinians. yah Ashka- Nazi”

When the University chose a new Chancellor in Nicolas Dirks, Dirks brought with him from Columbia University a history of “divest in all things Israel”.

In 2022, the University and Dean Chemerinsky stood by while dozens of campus groups at the Law school and other colleges passed resolutions prohibiting speakers who support Zionism. Talk about censorship. This controversy went for weeks with Chemerinsky involved in public debate with Ken Marcus, former chairperson of the Office of Civil rights. Marcus’s organization, the Brandeis Center for Human rights has recently filed suit in the United States District Court condemning the antisemitism on the Cal Campus.

At the end of Casablanca, Officer Reinart and Bogart walk off together, with Bogart commenting, Louie, this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship. Perhaps Renault (Chemerinsky( should leave and a new chancellor who understands that closing your eyes to injustice on campus for political correctness will never lead to a beautiful relationship.